You Oughta Be Committed - EMusician

You Oughta Be Committed

Among the moral weaknesses ascribed to men in some sweeping generalizations is a fear of commitment. As with many generalizations, there is a grain of
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Among the moral weaknesses ascribed to men in some sweeping generalizations is a fear of commitment. As with many generalizations, there is a grain of truth in this, but I fear it is a modern malady. An examination of history shows that a widespread fear of commitment developed subsequent to the invention of the 16-track multichannel tape recorder.

In the male-dominated recording world of the '60s, the availability of large numbers of tracks — later to blossom to 24 and 48 and on into the vast realm of the DAW — represented a kind of freedom, a panoply of available options that allowed a man to set sail off into the Wild Punch Sea without a thought to the track-cleanup process destined to follow.

Ah, youth!

It does stand to reason that maintaining options allows for finer crafting; this I allow. And, ah, it is true that I, too, have been known to patch and comp and save numerous takes, and it is indeed from this knowledge of the delicious, doomed delight of the apple's taste that I speak.

Hear me!

There would be no limit innate on your track count, nor a reason you should not go wide, but that each and every option you maintain — each spare take, each choice postponed — is a choice that must be made later.

Believe!

I tell you true, editing is a beast that feeds on option maintenance and grows in the shadows to a creature of frightening proportions. And then there's the mix. Oh great Hera, you never saw such a mess!

In another time and place, such options were unknown. Go back far enough, and we find that musicians even had to play tunes correctly all the way through. How did Armstrong do it?

Behold!

In the Age of the Birth of Modern Album — making, to wit, in the salad days of the Beatles with George Martin at Abbey Road, track limitations heralded such combinations (odd by today's standards) of piano, bongos, maracas, and guitars mixed to one track. Crude as crude dare be, those hardy souls lived by the sword of constant irrevocable decisions in the recording process. Yet they produced works of genius.

The art, as usual, is in the choices and finesse. In music, if it feels right, it most likely is. Nay, 'tis not so easy to precisely replicate good instrument sounds as one might expect, nor reliable to inspire once more a musician who did groove on an effects preset on a particular day.

Once upon a midnight dreary, as I pondered weak and weary over preparations I conducted for a voice-over session, I had chance to engage in several discussions with engineers concerning the use of compression in voice-over recording. To my surprise, the several quite qualified professionals generally shied away from compressing voices when recording VO.

Plainly, these people have made it work for them; but for myself, I have scarcely seen the day when a close-miked voice did not require light to moderate compression. I will admit — in fact, proclaim — that I favor peak limiting set to just below the clip point of an A/D converter. I am unafraid to make my choices! (Sometimes.)

And what could be the cost of such bold behavior? To commit oneself is a brave thing. For the possibility exists that you might, perhaps, be wrong. That can be bad.

Your flexibility is limited. Of course, that is the point, is it not? And you may simply change your mind about what is the best sound for a track as the context evolves around it. But nothing truly great ever came about without risk, and committing to a recorded sound is a type of risk, if a bodily benign one.

In the end, ideas can be refined; but moments must be captured, and doing so entails committing to decisions that cannot later be undone. Without doubt, it is the fool who fails to apply the wondrous technology we employ daily for purposes both surgical and amusing. Yet the ability to postpone decisions does not equate to the need, or even desirability of doing so.